Literature: Has America discovered Europe?
10 December 2010
The New York Times
With the help of independent publishing houses and with the input from the Old World’s cultural institutes and agencies, European literature is finally making inroads in the United States, a country which traditionally shies away from books in translation.
The runaway success of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy suggests that when it comes to contemporary literature in translation, Americans are at least willing to read Scandinavian detective fiction. But for work from other regions, in other genres, winning the interest of big publishing houses and readers in the United States remains a steep uphill struggle.
Among foreign cultural institutes and publishers, the traditional American aversion to literature in translation is known as “the 3 percent problem.” But now, hoping to increase their minuscule share of the American book market – about 3 percent – foreign governments and foundations, especially those on the margins of Europe, are taking matters into their own hands and plunging into the publishing fray in the United States.
Increasingly, that campaign is no longer limited to widely spoken languages like French and German. From Romania to Catalonia to Iceland, cultural institutes and agencies are subsidizing publication of books in English, underwriting the training of translators, encouraging their writers to tour in the United States, submitting to American marketing and promotional techniques they may have previously shunned and exploiting existing niches in the publishing industry.
“We have established this as a strategic objective, a long-term commitment to break through the American market,” said Corina Suteu, who leads the New York branch of the European Union National Institutes for Culture and directs the Romanian Cultural Institute. “For nations in Europe, be they small or large, literature will always be one of the keys of their cultural existence, and we recognize that this is the only way we are going to be able to make that literature present in the United States.”
For instance, the Dalkey Archive Press, a small publishing house in Champaign, Ill., that for more than 25 years has specialized in translated works, this year began a Slovenian Literature Series, underwritten by official groups in Slovenia, once part of Yugoslavia. The series’s first book, “Necropolis,” by Boris Pahor, is a powerful World War II concentration-camp memoir that has been compared to the best of Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi, and has been followed by Andrej Blatnik’s “You Do Understand,” a rather absurdist but still touching collection of sketches and parables about love and intimacy. Read full article in the New York Times...